I thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this matter. I endeavoured to raise it by way of Private Notice Question but it was ruled out of order because the matter was not considered urgent. I also received representations from paramedical staff about their strike and, unfortunately, that question was also ruled out of order. I am beginning to wonder how we can raise issues of immediate concern to our constituents. Because of the insistence on rules, one wonders if the Dáil is becoming more irrelevant. If the Government wanted those questions to be answered it would have provided for that. When we were in Government we allowed Private Notice Questions practically every day.
I reiterate the points made by my colleague and wish to quote from a letter I received which states:
The management team have met the Department of Health on two occasions on this matter and they have stressed that no further funding will be made available to our agency in the current year. The Department are insisting that the hospital now submit a service plan. The board of management have instructed the Chief Executive Officer to implement whatever measures are necessary to meet the requirements of the Department of Health.
Included in the proposed reductions are that a five day medical unit would be closed, theatre activity would be curtailed to one session per week in each specialty and GP referrals would be reduced for x-ray, laboratory and physiotherapy services. Other proposals are also listed in the letter.
The Minister will probably say that a meeting took place between the Medical Missionaries of Mary, the North Eastern Health Board and the Department of Health and that this letter has been withdrawn, but that will make me very suspicious.I would welcome withdrawal of the proposals, but the Department has in recent weeks insisted that no further funding will be made available and that the hospital is to reduce its level of service to the 1995 level. Was the letter withdrawn on the basis that we are approaching a general election? Will the Minister indicate whether the Department will be willing to make available in the Library the terms of the agreement reached between the North Eastern Health Board, the Department of Health and the Medical Missionaries of Mary on the sale of the hospital? I have no doubt that as the part of the negotiations the Department of Health and probably the North Eastern Health Board insisted that any shortfall would have to be met before the transfer could take place, otherwise there would be a reduction in the amount of money involved.
Despite the substantial amount of money put into the health services between 1992 and 1994, waiting lists are as long as ever. Are events in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital a forerunner of what will happen throughout the country, simply because the Government has spent much money in other areas? The cuts should be prioritised, with cuts in the area of spin doctors and advisers, on which £34 million was spent in one year, before proposing cuts for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.